The Serpent and the Goddess by Judith Shaw


judith shaw photoThe otherworldly energy of Snake – it’s vitality, its uncanny ability to sense danger, and its ability to shed its skin and reappear as if reborn must have invoked feelings of awe in our ancestors. All across the pre-historic world one finds depictions of Snake and the spiral or meander as Snake’s symbols.

Creation, Primal Energy, Life Force
Snakes are mysterious, cold-blooded creatures –  slithering silently across the land, sleeping with open lidless eyes, hearing without ears but by feeling Earth’s vibrations, and using their forked tongues to smell in lieu of a nose.

Snake Spirit Animal-painting-by-judith-shaw

To the human imagination this enigmatic being is both chthonic and spiritual – tying together Heaven and Earth. Though no stories survive from the early Neolithic period of Old Europe, the preponderance of imagery leads us to the conclusion that the Snake Goddess, often appearing as one with the Bird Goddess, was felt everywhere – ruling earth, water and air – nurturing the world with the feminine principle – Mistress of life-giving cosmic forces.

Snake-Motifs-Old-Europe

Ningišzida-Sumerian-serpent-god

Ningišzida

Many cultures view Snake as a divine being. The Chinese believed that the snake-headed goddess, Nüwa, made the first humans from clay.

Over the millennia gods grew in importance. The Sumerian Serpent God, Ningišzida, was associated with vegetation, growth and decay. Also known as Zu, he was the Lord of the Watery Abyss – the place from which we come and to which we return.

Snake, known as the Rainbow Serpent who protected water and gave life was part of the creation myth of Aboriginal Australians.

In Pelasgian mythology, the indigenous people of Greece, the Great Goddess, Eurynome, first separated water from sky. While dancing across the waters she caught the wind, rubbing it between her hands to create the snake, Ophion. With desire he coiled himself around her, impregnating Eurynome who then laid the cosmic egg. She bade Ophion to wrap his body around it seven times. The egg cracked and Earth came forth filled with flora and fauna.

The Dahomy people of Africa believed in a serpent god, Dan, who is depicted encircling the world with its tail in its mouth. In some versions Dan was the child of Mawu-Lisa, twin creator goddess/god. In other versions Serpent God Dan created life on Earth.

Snake had a strong presence in the belief system of the Aegean region during the Bronze Age. From the well-known Minoan Snake Goddess, to the terra-cotta painted snakes of Mycenaean cult centers Snake maintained its role as an earth goddess and protector – a bridge between worlds granting access to spiritual wisdom and transformation.

Snake reminds you of your primal instincts and unconscious drives, to be aware of your energy sources and how to best use that energy.

Serpent-Spirit-Guide-painting-by-judith-shaw

Why Snake is seen as evil
With the rise of monotheistic, patriarchal cultures we see the divine Snake, representative of the goddess and female creative nature being hunted and killed by a god – falling in status from Creator to the incarnation of evil. This theme is found over and over again in many Indo-European myths.

The Mesopotamian god Marduk destroyed Tiamat, Serpent Goddess of the Salt Sea. In the Greek Pantheon Zeus battled the underworld serpent Typhon, ultimately trapping it beneath Mount Aetna. And Abrahamic mythology tells of the god Yahweh who battled the serpent Leviathan.

In Northern Europe the Norse god Thor killed the world serpent Jörmungandr.

Corra, Celtic Serpent Goddess painting by Judith ShawCorra, forgotten Serpent Goddess of Ireland and Scotland, called forth the serpents of life, death, and rebirth to twine her promise of eternity around the lives of her people. In a bloody battle St Patrick of Ireland killed Corra.

Where sexuality is celebrated, Snake remains an honored deity. Where sexuality is repressed as sinful, Snake is viewed as evil. Patriarchal societies turned Snake, the great symbol of early Matriarchal cultures, into the epitome of evil – a successful tactic in the destruction of the goddess worshipping cultures of old.

Transformation, Fertility
Snake who sheds its skin frequently and emerges renewed, represents the mystery of death and rebirth. Snake’s ability to bite its own tail and to coil into spirals – both symbols of eternity – furthers its association with the immortality inherent in transformation.

Perhaps because ancient people observed snakes emerging from hibernation in early spring Snake became the herald of spring- Earth’s transformation to rebirth and fertility -. Neolithic artifacts show images of snakes together with salmon, flowers and nesting birds – symbols of spring.

Later cultures like the Celts continued this belief. The Celtic Goddess, Brigid, was sometimes viewed as a snake who emerged from her mound on February 2, the first day of Celtic spring.

The snake, žaltys, was a special favorite of Saule, Lithuanian Sun Goddess. She wore a snake adorned crown – symbolizing the promise of ongoing life and abundance.

The North American Hopi celebrate the union of Snake Youth (Sky) and Snake Girl( Underworld) with a snake dance to renew the fertility of Mother Earth.

Snake brings awareness of our sensuality – our ability to respond to stimuli we encounter and to the flow of energy swirling around us.

Healing
When Snake sheds its skin it also frees itself from scars and skin disease. The association between healing and snakes is evident in Greek mythology.

Asclepius, Greek God of Healing and Medicine once healed a snake, who then shared its secret healing knowledge. His rod, a staff entwined by a snake, remains the symbol of medicine today.

Intelligence, Psychic Awareness, Predictions
Snake is the ultimate symbol of intelligence, predictions and psychic awareness – perhaps because of Snake’s mysterious way of being – unblinking lidless eyes, smelling without a nose, hearing without ears, and sensing heat and movement – which allows it to succeed in life in ways totally foreign to humans.

Snake was credited with predictive powers concerning weather. The Scottish believed that good weather on St. Bride’s Day (the Christianized version of Brigid) indicated winter would last longer.

Lithuanians celebrated January 25 as the Day of Serpents. People invited snakes into their homes with specially prepared food. In ancient Greece at the Epirus Sanctuary priestesses offered food to the sanctuary snakes. In both cases if the food was eaten the crops of the coming year would be abundant – if not scarcity would follow.

The druids, priests of Celtic spirituality, considered the adder snake as wise and spiritually aware, even carrying adder eggs as talismans for power and psychic insight.

The famous Oracle of Delphi, belonged to the goddess long before Apollo killed the serpent Python and took control of it. Gaia, Greek Earth Goddess, gave birth to Python, the original Oracle at Delphi who inherited all Gaia’s wisdom and knowledge. It was he who sent prophecies to Pythia, his oracle priestess at the temple of Krisa, to inspire her visions of the future.

Wisdom, Guardian Spirit, Underworld
Snake, who lives in Earth’s cracks and holes, has small, sound conducting bones in its head, allowing it to hear low frequency sounds and to sense Earth’s vibrations. This connects Snake to the Underworld – place of secret knowledge – as Guardian Spirit. Snake also functions as messenger between the worlds.

Perhaps how Snake with its unmoving eyes appears to contemplate their actions before striking has led to their association with wisdom.

Long before the Greek Perseus killed the snake-haired Medusa, she was known as the Dark Moon aspect of the Libyan triadic goddess, Anatha. As Libyan Medusa, she represented wisdom, the dark moon, and death and rebirth. She and her Amazon priestesses, wore leather pouches filled with live snakes. She was associated with divination, healing, and renewal.

The Greek Athena also originated from this Libyan triadic goddess – Athena, Goddess of the Waxing Moon. Later as part of the Greek pantheon and in a horrific twist, as Medusa was in fact part of her ancient self, she received Medusa’s severed head from Perseus and affixed it to her breast plate – providing protection for Athens.

Egyptian goddess, Wadjet, predated a unified Egypt as the protective deity of Lower Egypt. She was depicted as a cobra winding around a papyrus stem.

Divinatory Meaning
When Snake appears a time for transformation, a time to shed illusions and fears is at hand. Change is on the horizon. Snake calls for the use of intelligence to access situations and the application of wisdom in your actions.

Snake calls you to open to psychic awareness, to sense the vibrations of your circumstances and then use that insight to move forward on your path. Snake – always connected to the very ground of Mother Earth –  reminds you to stay grounded in your efforts, to avoid flights of fancy. 

Snake energy gifts you with vitality, healing, wisdom, power and a deeper level of spiritual awareness gained through openness to transitions. Through Snake the love and protection of Mother Goddess is yours.

PostScriipt: If you have an opinion as to which of my two snake paintings – the red or the blue – would be the best one to include in my work-in-progress, Animal Spirit Guides, please let me know with a quick comment.

Sources: The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe by Marija Gimbutas, Wikipedia, The Serpent as Divinity by Robert T. Mason, PhD, Serpent Sanctum, Study.com, Paleothea, JeremyVarner.com, Goddess Inspired, Live Science, Building Beautiful Souls, Goddess in the Wheel of the Year, Shamanism

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.

 

 



Categories: animals, Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Paganism, Symbols

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38 replies

  1. Your writing today is an answer to prayer.thank you!!

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  2. Fascinating post, Judith. Enjoyed reading it. I thought of the incident in the Bible (Numbers 21:9), a narrative that dates several centuries before the Greek god Asclepius. “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” Apparently God sent poisonous snakes among the Israelites as punishment for their complaints about lack of decent food and water while wandering in the desert wilderness. The serpents bit the Israelites, killing many of them. When the people repented, God instructed Moses to build a serpent on a pole. Whoever had been bitten need then only look at the serpent on the pole and be healed.

    Oh, and I love both paintings–red and blue. The blue one, though, invites me into the image.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Esther,
      That’s a very interesting passage from the Bible that you mention – very contradictory in some ways as God punishes the people with snakes but then uses an image of a snake to heal them if they repent. How would you read that symbolically?

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      • Can only speculate, however, perhaps this particular biblical passage reflects two ways of understanding the transcendent or divine. The snake as an image of female divinity still very much alive in the imaginations of people, but the negative “spin” on the serpent coming into its own especially given the appearance of the snake in the Garden of Eden in a way that disparages the woman.

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        • Esther,
          The passage seems to indicate that the transformation from a nurturing oriented Goddess worshipping culture to a culture of monotheism and patriarchy was in its infancy. The snake and its venom were punishment for the “sins” of the people but then knowing that people were still very connected to the old ways it was also used for its ancient positive aspect of healing. Pretty interesting….

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  3. I love this post Judith. There is a rabbinical tradition that says that the universe was created within the skin of a serpent. That has been one of the focal points of my meditations recently. You talk so beautifully about the many-layered symbolisms. And your art work is wonderful. You have added much needed dimensions to my musings. I will mark this post and likely refer to it again. In fact, can I put it up on my own website (I don’t know how to re-blog so I’d have to put in the URL and refer people back to this site)? Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  4. HI Janet,
    Thanks for sharing another tradition concerning serpent as Creator. There is so, so much symbolism around Snake and I know I’ve only touched the surface.

    For sure mention the post on your website with a link back so that folks can read it. Sharing is always great!

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  5. I really appreciate this extensive collection of stories about snakes and those beautiful paintings… I could not choose – my gut says include them BOTH in some way because they compromise the double nature of the serpent… I do want to add some practical information… snake is the life force – if you are a dreamer and snake shows up in a dream pay close attention because many times some aspect of the body/mind is being brought to your attention – I have had snake warnings that helped me to get medical attention as well as others who let me know that someone was dangerous….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sarah you got it exactly – the red snake is the chthonic and the blue is the spiritual – the two sides of serpent. Maybe one could be Earth Serpent and the other one Sky Serpent.
      Your thoughts on the healing nature of snake make good sense. All these spirit animal stories will get furthered edited once I pull them together into an oracle deck and your understanding would be important to include.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The blue calls to me more. And I have put this on resources on the divine feminine app. Appreciated as always!!

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  7. Thank you for the research from so many cultures. I love both paintings, but feel that the red snake is more grounded in the Earth, whereas the blue snake is more of a water snake.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nick,
    You are very welcome. I really love doing the research for all my posts – I learn so much.
    I agree with you that the red snake is of Earth whereas the blue is perhaps both water and the sky. Someone else suggested using them both and that’s a possibility too. That would call for breaking the symbolism into two different stories though. Will have to think on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Brava! I can’t say that I’ve made friends with any snakes, but I sure do like the stories. And your drawings are gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I prefer the blue painting. I like the Trinitarian and Celtic influences.

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  11. Beautiful post as always, Judith, and so exciting to see the deck taking shape. Hard to choose which painting. Before I read other people’s comments, I chose the red. It is mysterious and I love the small spirals to the left of the snake. I haven’t counted, but it seems like there are a lot of advocates for both paintings. Maybe a third one will emerge, incorporating elements of both as Sara suggested.

    I named my first computer Nidaba (which I see is also spelled Nisaba) for the Sumerian Goddess of writing. The first ritual name that came to me was Snake Dancer. I have written here about snakes I used to sit with every spring when they emerged from a rock by a spring. They would slither over my bare feet. Once I sat with about 20 snakes and burned some incense when one of them died. On Brigid’s day I sing a chant I found in Carmina Gadelica:

    Early on Brigid’s morn, the serpent shall come from the hole
    I’ll not harm the serpent nor will the serpent harm me

    Thank you for a beautiful, satisfying, inspiring post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Elizabeth,
      I am inspired by you and Sarah having such close contact with snakes. I hope to be able to do the same. I love that chant to Brigid. I only discovered it myself this past Imbolc. I’m going to look for your post about sitting with snakes – 20 snakes Wow!!
      I think some folks are afraid of snakes because a few of the thousands of species are poisonous. While researching Snake I read an interesting saying about how snake’s coloring indicates if poisonous or not –
      “If black meets yellow – the fellow is mellow.
      If black meets red – Jack is dead.”

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    • I love watching them emerge too

      Liked by 1 person

  12. wonderful post, judith. so excited that you have included snake in the new deck your working on. i love both pictures, but if i had to choose one it would probably be the blue. i hope they both end up in your shop for purchase. :)

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  13. The serpent beguiled Eve.
    And still does.

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  14. love this post,,, i never really realized the Psychic connection to snakes… and the Feminine Goddess connection as well.. as a very dominant man all my life i am starting to realize that just maybe The Woman is the true Master of males and may just be the true Master/ God of the universe as well… tho i will need to be a little more educated in all of this,,, i have always been a devout Christian, even a youth pastor for many years,, tho as a school teacher i have had to put my beliefs to the side for awhile,,, and during that time it seems the universe has been trying to speak to me, including possible reversal of Christ as my God to the one who He told us was evil,,, maybe it’s the evil one who’s Good… anyways ..reading about the Feminist society, God just may be a Woman afterall !
    jimjacnu@gmail.com

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